Russia will move to “eliminate unacceptable threats” if the United States and NATO do not respond to the Kremlin’s security demands, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned, following top-level talks between the rival powers.
Lavrov told Russia’s state-run Ria Novosti news agency on Friday that the foreign ministry would not allow the proposals to be rolled up in “endless discussions” as tensions simmer between Moscow and Western powers over Ukraine, where fears of a possible Russian invasion have risen in recent months, increased by Moscow’s deployment of tens of thousands of troops along the two countries shared border.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden spoke by telephone for nearly an hour on Thursday, their second conversation this month, ahead of lower-level, face-to-face negotiations in Geneva in January between senior officials.
Among Russia’s wish-list of requests, many of which are seen as non-starters in the West, is a demand that the US-headed NATO transatlantic security alliance promises to give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
The Kremlin says NATO’s expansion eastward and Kyiv’s growing ties with the body have undermined security in the region.Moscow claims such developments threaten Russia, contravene assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and compares with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the world came to the brink of nuclear war.
Lavrov said Moscow would take “all necessary measures to ensure a strategic balance” in the event its concerns were ignored.
During Thursday’s discussions, which were requested by Russia, Biden and Putin exchanged warnings over Ukraine but shared hope that the January talks may ease tensions.
Biden said he needed to see Russia decrease its military build-up near Ukraine, while Putin warned the West against significant sanctions, saying such a move could break ties.
Russia denies it is planning to attack Ukraine and says it has the right to move troops on its soil.
“President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said the call had created a “good backdrop” for future talks.
January security meeting
Despite the talk of diplomacy, neither country detailed significant progress towards a resolution or the outlines of any new security deal.
“Both leaders acknowledged that there were likely to be areas where we could make the meaningful progress as well as areas where agreements may be impossible and that the upcoming talks would determine more precisely the contours of each of those categories,” an unnamed senior White House official told the Reuters news agency.
According to the Kremlin, Biden appeared to agree that Moscow needed some security guarantees and said he did not intend to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine.
The White House made no immediate comment on the Kremlin’s characterisation of Biden’s remarks.
The US has led the charge in raising the alarm over Russian troop movements near Ukraine, following a previous deployment of forces by Moscow earlier this year.
Washington and its Western allies say Moscow has massed up to 100,000 soldiers ahead of a possible winter incursion into its neighbour, seven years after it seized the Crimea peninsula in 2014.
Shortly after the annexation, Russia supported a separatist rebellion in Ukraine’s east. The conflict in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, has killed more than 14,000 people to date, according to Kyiv.
Following the talks between senior officials in Switzerland next month, the Russia-NATO Council will meet on January 12 in Brussels. A day later, negotiations are expected to take place at the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe in Vienna.